Recovery and Recycling of Denim Waste

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Tanjina Riya

The textile business has a significant environmental impact since it uses a lot of energy, water, and chemicals during the various phases of production. Textile waste continues to be generated after the production stage, as consumers continue to purchase new textile products, and eventually ends up in municipal landfills. Traditionally, the textile and clothing industry is a linear industry: make, use and discard. The disposal of post-consumer textile waste is a major urban waste issue, and commercial and charitable organizations frequently collect unwanted textiles. Only a small fraction of textile waste gets recovered in this way; the remainder is abandoned as solid municipal waste, and there is a great untapped potential for using this discarded waste, and the recycling options are endless. A circular manufacturing system is required to become more ecologically friendly, in which discarded items are reused (second hand use) or used as a source of raw material (resource efficiency). To become more environmentally friendly, a circular production system is required, in which discarded things are repurposed (second hand use) or used as a source of raw material (resource efficiency).

The main issues in high-end textile recycling are return logistics (how to collect discarded textiles as a separate material stream that is not mixed in with other waste), the distance between product production and use – and thus the location where materials are discarded – and material stream reproducibility. Companies need this reproducibility to be able to employ high-quality recycled 528 Denim fabrics. To do this, collected textiles should be sorted before being recycled on a large scale. For separating textile waste according to color and chemical content, many sorting systems and software programs are either available or under development.

Problem with denim waste:

Denim is produced and used in massive quantities, and its manufacture, use, and disposal have a significant environmental impact. The International Solid Waste Association produced a comprehensive review of denim’s impact, highlighting environmental elements and opportunities to reduce environmental impact. All components of denim manufacture, as well as the environmental implications associated with those production steps, are examined in depth in this paper. The manufacture of cotton fibers (even organic cotton has a significant environmental impact) and the indigo dyeing of warp yarns have the greatest environmental impact. Indigo dye manufacture is a complicated chemical process, and natural indigo production is linked to bad working conditions.

Cutting waste in the production of denim jeans ranges between 10% and 15%. The majority of cutting waste is recycled by unraveling the fibers and recycling them in the manufacture of insert yarns (weft direction). Because cutting waste is generated prior to washing and finishing, the weft yarns are additionally dyed dark blue (indigo). When jeans are turned inside out, the exterior color is a darker blue than the pastel blue inside, which is the result of weft yarns produced entirely of virgin fibers. The reuse of cutting waste has no effect on the quality of jeans. Because denim is less uniform in terms of color, fiber quality, and non-textile components such as buttons, zippers, rivets, and leather (look) labels, post-consumer denim recycling is more difficult. Also problematic is collection and correct categorization. The majority of collected post-consumer jeans are shredded and repurposed in low-value applications such as thermal and noise insulation, as well as pressure distribution, although high-value end uses are increasingly being pursued nowadays. Post-consumer denim waste has been commercially shown on a wide scale for use in textile applications.

Environmental benefits of denim recycling:

  • Recycled fibers are used to replace virgin fibers.
  • No scouring or bleaching required (this is more or less the case when processing denim when components are presorted by color).
  • No need to dye.
  • The produced product has the same lifetime as other products with the same capabilities.

Future trends:

The current state of denim recycling is purely mechanical, that is, producing recovered fibers of a specific quality. In the coming years, this quality must improve. Enhanced shredding and unwinding technologies, improved sorting and selection, and the introduction of new recycling technologies will all contribute to this goal. Working on these three factors is critical in order to recycle more denim and utilize the resulting fibers in high-end applications, hence reducing the consumption of virgin cotton fibers. These enhancements will be required because global fiber consumption is expected to rise by 3%–4% per year over the next 5–10 years. Cotton demand is expected to increase from 25 million tons in 2013 to 33–37 million tons in 2023. Increases in output will almost certainly fall short of meeting this increased demand, resulting in virgin cotton shortages and (much) higher cotton prices (as happened during a brief time of cotton crisis in 2011). This means that recycled cotton and/or alternative fibers like viscose, hemp, and linen will have to compensate for some of the increase in cotton demand. Higher prices for virgin cotton will, of course, have a good impact on high-end cotton recycling, resulting in an increase in the number of products with a higher recycled cotton content, such as denim.

Conclusion:

Textile recycling is gaining traction, and concepts like ‘circular economy’ are becoming increasingly prominent in the textile and apparel sector, as well as among retailers and consumers. Everyone wants to see more sustainable production processes, products, and ways of life. The growing interest in high-end denim recycling is a wonderful example of the possibilities that recycling may provide. Several stylish products with substantial quantities of recycled denim fibers are already on the market. Despite the fact that numerous problems have to be solved, the initial efforts appear to be quite promising. A number of technological and nontechnological advancements are projected to improve denim recycling.

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